So Much Greenness!

Country Road, Hamden, Connecticut, July, 2017

“The green!” my husband noted as we drove along the leafy country roads of Wyndham County towards our summer rental. “Look at that soft, pale green. Why is that?”

It took us a couple of days for a couple of city dwellers like us to understand what we were seeing: the aftermath of a devastating gypsy moth infestation. Which must have been something!  For, once we knew what to look for, we could track the widespread damage those foliage-munching caterpillars had wreaked. Acres and acres. And began to notice how all along the roads, beneath the wayside ferns and wildflowers and weeds, lay huge, tree-limb segments. Everywhere. Had those thick limbs been chain-sawed off to save the rest of a tree?

So, we realized, in fact, what we were seeing was new growth. The tender shoots of renewal, rebirth in the middle of summer. (A wet summer. That certainly helped).

There were butterflies, too. Hundreds. Some in colors I’d only seen before on the end of a pin. So many butterflies, so much soft, spring-like greenness! As if to make clear: transformation happens.

Once home and once again in worship inside, on a bench in a Quaker meetinghouse, I reflected on those acres of pale green, those butterflies. “Is there more?” I wondered inwardly. “Am I to go deeper than ‘Transformation happens.’?”

But that seemed to be enough.

 

What Love Will Do

A pro-affordable housing rally, City Hall, Somerville (a Sanctuary City) MA; May, 2017

We may be cooked. Even The Boston Globe, whose editorial policy regarding climate change reportage is sometimes mystifying—and often infuriating—featured a front-page article this morning admitting that things look grim.

It’s taken me a couple of years to let this horror sink in. And maybe that’s okay. Because, denial/magical thinking/distractions to help me to forget/bargaining; all the crazy stuff we humans do when faced with Bad News have, over time, brought me right to where I am supposed to be: accepting my humanity. Humbly.

And to ask myself: What am I asked to do? (Besides, of course, doing everything I can possibly do to sharply bring down global emissions.) And although a dear friend says mine is “Pollyanna thinking” (and she may very well be right!), here’s what I’m dedicating/rededicating my life to from now on: lovin’ the hell out of everyone. If my species is doomed, let me affirm what is best about being human; our ability to love.

May my life continue William Penn’s experiment: “Let us then try what Love will do.”

OG’s Seat

White Butterfly on Ficus Tree

Just before my turn to speak at a parole hearing last week, a story came to me; a story I hoped might convey what I wanted to say. So, after telling the parole board after my meeting’s Wednesday night sharing circle, I concluded by saying something like this:

“One of the founders of our circle, OG*, often comes late. He does construction so it’s hard for him to get to the sharing circle, which begins at 7:00, until it has already started. So, because he’s so important to our community, we always put out an extra chair. Now, you might say “That’s OG’s seat.” You might say “That’s Elijah’s chair.” Or you might say that every week, our circle is saving the space for redemption, for transformation.”

Honestly? From where I sat, only one bit of all that verbiage resonated: That OG did construction! I could see the parole board take that (seemingly minor) detail in. Nod their heads. “Ah, yes,” those nods seemed to say. “Returning citizens do construction. That’s how the world works.” And, those nods also seemed to say, “This white-haired Quaker is connected to people like OG. Who is real. So this circle she’s describing seems to be real. And an actual possibility for X, if we decide to grant him parole. Oh.”

So, no, those precious words, redemption, transformation? They didn’t carry the water. A seemingly insignificant detail did. Oh.

Whatever works, right?

*Not his real initials. But OG kinda works.

“I can’t believe I’m still . . . “

[Jean Lafitte National Park, Lafitte, Louisiana]

That arc of history may be long and slowly bending towards justice—but it’s not exactly cruisin’ down I-95, is it! Sometimes that arc moves so slowly its movement is almost imperceptible. Sometimes it pauses, curves back on itself. Sometimes, like a twisty, bendy strangler fig vine, that arc moves backwards. And it feels as though we’re living in one of those retrograde times right now.

But here’s what privilege looks like: For most of my life I’ve expected linear. I’ve expected that arc to move steadily forward. So have been mystified and pissed that, jeez, here we are again? Like so many others, “I can’t believe I’m still . . . “  I mean, didn’t we already do this? Didn’t we settle all these trenchant issues once and for all? It’s so unfair!

So, yeah, I’ve been inwardly whining. Like a three-year-old. And need to take a good, hard look at my expectations surrounding social justice.  To admit that some of my stuff is ego, plain and simple and deadly. (I protested. I marched = I fixed it! Riiiight.) Some of this is about my belief that I have a “right to comfort.” On a really bad day, my resistance to accepting that, yup, Things Suck, Get Crackin’ is about not being twenty-two, anymore. I wonder if  I actually have the strength and energy and fortitude to show up, resist, interrupt. But, mostly, this is about, at the deepest, most profoundly fundamental level, my cluelessness. Again.  Why wouldn’t I, white and privileged, expect that arc to inch forward bit by bit. Slowly, yes. And not a crystal stair, certainly; I was never that clueless. (But close.)

So it is with both humility and fervent hope that I say: I still believe that arc moves toward justice. But it’s going to be much harder and take way longer than I ever before understood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whatever Works

 

When I learned that Nelson Mandela had found great strength in Invictus, I made copies of that William Ernest Henley poem and mailed them to two men I correspond with, currently behind bars.

Nice gesture, right?  But pointless. I see that now. Somehow, mysteriously,  a Victorian, “stiff upper lip,” Brit poem (i.e. language of his oppressors) spoke to Mandela. He discovered that rereading “I am the master of my fate” every day reminded him that his strength was with him. He chose that particular poem; he let it speak to him. Through him. And it worked.

Each of us has to chose our own Invictus. One poem can’t fit all. But whatever works for you, oh Lordy, I hope you’ve found it, find it!

Here’s what’s working for me these days: a cheesy* version of “How Can I Keep from Singing?” It sounds an echo in my soul, indeed!

*A word about cheesy: From an interview with Patty Jenkins, director of “Wonder Woman” (New York Times, June 1, 2017):

This may be a cheesy question, but what do you want people to take away from this movie?

Did you say cheesy? Cheesy is one of the words banned in my world. I’m tired of sincerity being something we have to be afraid of doing. It’s been like that for 20 years, that the entertainment and art world has shied away from sincerity, real sincerity, because they feel they have to wink at the audience because that’s what the kids like. We have to do the real stories now. The world is in crisis.

I wanted to tell a story about a hero who believes in love, who is filled with love, who believes in change and the betterment of mankind. I believe in it. It’s terrible when it makes so many artists afraid to be sincere and truthful and emotional, and relegates them to the too-cool-for-school department. Art is supposed to bring beauty to the world.

What I’d Do Different Now

[Woolworth’s Sit In, Jackson, Mississippi, May, 1963]

Some years ago I began to wonder: Whatever happened to those two African-Americans who desegregated E.C. Glass High School in Lynchburg, Virginia in 1962? So I found Dr. Lynda Woodruff and Reverend Owen Cardwell, Jr.—and wrote a book about what unfolded because I’d wondered.

These days? Now I am moved to wonder: What would happen if I found one of those despicable young men abusing the Jackson, MS sit-inners? (Surely some are still alive?) Could I possibly sit down with one of them; could I ever listen with an open heart? Face to face with a white supremacist, could I remember to seek “that of God” in the old man seated across from me? Not try to “fix” what I’d hear; offer neither advice nor comments but merely ask questions? (Why do you suppose X happened? How do you make meaning of that? Why do you think Y said that? How did you feel when Z happened? Tell me about how you learned about X? etc. ) And then write a book about what I heard? And learned? Could I?

Not lacking in (compelling, passionately engaged-in) writing projects, I am nevertheless tugged at, nudged to wonder: Where does hate come from? What, in all my studies, all my close attention to race and class and gender and education and all the other variables that make each of us who we are; what have I missed, what have I never understood? What do I need to know?